Monday 31 May 2010


There is a very bright male TRUMPETER FINCH at Cley NWT Reserve, Norfolk, this evening, showing very well on the seaward side of the shingle bank, 100 yards to the east of the far end of the East Bank to the north of Arnold's Marsh. It was initially discovered on Blakeney Point early morning, close to the Lifeboat Station, but disappeared soon after and was later relocated early afternoon where it is now.

The bird is showing very well and there is no necessity to flush it, nor any requirement to photograph it at point blank range. I understand that there was an initial period of flushing and disturbance when news of its rediscovery was first released, apparently under the ruse of photography........

This represents the second record of this North African nomadic vagrant in Norfolk and falls hard on the heels of the first-summer male on Blakeney Point from 31 May to 4 June 2008 (British Birds 102: 592, plate 390).

Saturday 29 May 2010

Selfish behaviour by photographers flushes rare duck in Cambridgeshire

Diddington Blue-winged Teal disturbed by photographers getting too close

With the rise and rise in digital photography, more and more birdwatchers are competing to try and get the best pictures possible of each and every new rarity that appears on the Bird Information Services. As a consequence of this, I am finding more and more birds are being disturbed or flushed off before others are getting the opportunity to see them. This selfish attitude is becoming almost the norm and I am becoming rather frustrated by it. If you complain, you often get a mouthful of abuse back. It also appears to be a new school of arrivals to the hobby that are responsible (many faces that I do not recognise), rather than those that have either served their apprenticeships or have been birding for a very long time.

There is a code of conduct in place in reference to rare vagrants but this seems to be getting ignored and I have some solace with those patchworkers that feel so aggrieved by the modern day attitudes of a minority, that they feel obliged to withhold news from the masses. I am sure most of us would prefer to see the birds in the flesh rather than in the virtual world of the internet so it would be appreciated if field craft was held as a top priority when viewing birds of a much wider interest

All the very best

Lee Evans

Friday 28 May 2010

Tonight's Friday Review

This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert, issued at midnight on Friday 28 May 2010 and published in close association of Rare Bird Alert Pagers, whilst utilising additional information gleaned from the Regional Birdlines, Birdcall, BirdGuides and individual websites and blogs.

The outstanding news of course relates to that of the beautiful WHITE-TAILED PLOVER (Vanellus leucurus) which is gracing the lagoon at Seaforth Nature Reserve in Merseyside. The bird is frequently showing down to just a few yards from Hide A and has been exceptionally photographed. Members of Lancashire Wildlife Trust can apply for permits to visit the reserve but for the majority, observation can only be made at great distance through the steel perimeter fence guarding the dock and port area. Access from Cambridge Road and walk along the south side of Crosby Marine Lake to view - early mornings and evenings best to avoid heat glare.

It represents only the 5th White-tailed Plover to be recorded in Britain but occurs fairly hot on the heels of the most recently twitchable bird in June 2007 -:

1) An adult was present at Packington Gravel Workings (Warwickshire) from 12-18 July 1975 ((British Birds 69: 334; 70: 465-471; 71: 128; Ibis 120: 409);

2) One was photographed on The Fleet at Chesil Beach (Dorset) on 3 July 1979 (British Birds 73: 506; 74: 228);

3) A bird that flew in off the sea at Cleadon (Tyne & Wear) on 21 May 1984 was later relocated far inland at gravel pits near Telford (Salop) from 24-25 May 1984 (British Birds 78: 545; 79: 294-295; 91: 473);

4) An adult was present at Caerlaverock WWT (Dumfries & Galloway) from 6-8 June 2007 (British Birds 100: plate 187 & 101: plate 267), and later relocated at Leighton Moss RSPB, Lancashire, from 10-17 June (British Birds 101: 537-538).(Hesketh 2007, Birding World 20: 240-242). It was seen by over 1,800 observers during its stay.

For the second consecutive year, an adult male LITTLE BITTERN has returned to Loxton's Marsh at Ham Walls RSPB (Somerset), half a mile east of the main car park at Ashcott Corner. Like last summer, the bird is 'barking' repeatedly and showed very well high up on the reeds this evening. It arrived on Tuesday.

In South Yorkshire, a reeling male SAVI'S WARBLER is present for a second day in the Dearne Valley at Old Moor RSPB reserve, audible intermittently from the Wath Ings Hide, whilst a BLACK STORK was again seen over Osmond Flatt Farm at Deepdale Wood in County Durham. In Derbyshire, the male GREAT REED WARBLER continues to bellow out of the Phragmites at Straw's Bridge Pools, Ilkeston.

A female BLUE-WINGED TEAL paired with a drake Shoveler moved overnight between Groby Pool (Leics) and Diddington Pit, Little Paxton (Cambs), where it remained for a second day in the SW corner (but was selfishly flushed by two photographers at 1600 hours and not relocated). A WHISKERED TERN was also seen briefly in the county, hawking over the main pit at Ely Beet Factory early morning.

TEMMINCK'S STINTS today included singles at Cley Marshes NWT (Norfolk) and at Hosehill Lake scrape, Theale (Berks) and the two at Frampton Marsh RSPB South Scrape (Lincs) whilst a gorgeous female RED-NECKED PHALAROPE spent a second day on Lagoon III at Rutland Water Egleton Reserve (Leics). A PECTORAL SANDPIPER was found at Summer Leys NR, Earls Barton (Northants) this morning and remained all day visible from Pioneer Hide

At Spurn Point (East Yorks), a GOLDEN ORIOLE flew over the Canal Zone early morning and was later trapped at Kew Villa and a male COMMON ROSEFINCH was seen whilst nearby, 1-2 singing male COMMON ROSEFINCHES were present in the Flamborough Head area, along with a female RED-BACKED SHRIKE.

Up to 12 EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS remain on the Isles of Scilly, moving between St Martin's and St Mary's, along with several migrant GOLDEN ORIOLES, whilst another BEE-EATER flew east over Durlston Head (Dorset) late morning. Another migrant GOLDEN ORIOLE included a first-summer on Bardsey Island (Caernarfonshire) today.

A male RED-BACKED SHRIKE is present for a second day at Gramborough Hill, Salthouse (Norfolk) whilst in the south of the county, the very long-staying singing male WHITE-SPOTTED BLUETHROAT is still to be heard in the vicinity of the Lyle Hide at Welney WWT.

A wave of RED-FOOTED FALCONS has arrived in recent days with two males - an adult and a first-summer - over Wilstone Reservoir, Tring (Herts), a first-summer male in the Gurnard's Head/Sennen area (Cornwall) and two females over the North Wall at Breydon Water (Norfolk) for 20 minutes early afternoon.

In Northern Scotland, the drake KING EIDER and PECTORAL SANDPIPER remain on the Ythan Estuary (Aberdeenshire), with a RUSTIC BUNTING on Fetlar (Shetland), a EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE on Coll (Argyll) and the COMMON CRANE at the Mill Dam of Rango (Orkney). The confiding RED-RUMPED SWALLOW was also again by the Doctor's Surgery at St Margaret's Hop on South Ronaldsay (Orkney) this evening.

A male BEARDED TIT at Conwy RSPB (North Wales) is an excellent record.

A COLLARED PRATINCOLE was apparently seen flying across Swan Pool at Sandwell Valley RSPB (West Midlands) yesterday. Also of interest was a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW on St Agnes (Scilly) yesterday.

In IRELAND, an outstanding four (three males and a female) RED-FOOTED FALCONS are present for a second day in the White Hole and Longtown area of Tacumshin Pools (County Wexford), with a further female in County Kildare at Timahoe West. A migrant GOLDEN ORIOLE is at Inishbofin Island (County Galway), whilst the summering adult FORSTER'S TERN remains at the East End Pool at Tacumshin and two drake Garganey and a female Marsh Harrier at nearby Lingstown.

Thursday 27 May 2010

MEGA - WHITE-TAILED PLOVER at Seaforth NR, Merseyside

At noon, fellow Seaforth regular Tony Conway and I entered Hide A, near to the causeway. A visitor to Seaforth, Stephen Wende was in the hide. As we set up our scopes we asked him had he seen anything, he replied that the Wilson`s Phalarope was on the causeway. Somewhat surprised by this as the Phalarope hadn`t been seen all day yesterday, we looked at the bird he was talking about...incredulously a WHITE-TAILED PLOVER !!!!!

Chaos ensued as we tried to both digiscope and `phone out the news. After c15 mins the bird flew off to the east of the reserve, having been constantly harrassed by the resident Lapwings. Despite searching we could not relocate it. After an hour however it magically appeared on the scrape alongside the hide and showed down to 10m for the rest of the afternoon. At least sixty people saw it from inside the reserve and a growing crowd appeared looking through the perimeter fence from Crosby marina (Pete Kinsella).

Tuesday 25 May 2010

......And with the scorching heat dropping away, 350 species are logged

Derbyshire's first GREAT REED WARBLER photographed by Daz Chapman

RED-RUMPED SWALLOW on South Ronaldsay, Orkney, this afternoon - a great find by Paul Higson and some excellent images by Morris Rendall

We are now in to Week 21 of 2010 and before the end of May, the combined total number of species recorded in Britain and Ireland has climbed to a very impressive 350 species. This week's additions include WILSON'S PHALAROPE, Icterine Warbler, WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER, White-winged Black Tern and Red-breasted Flycatcher.

The beautiful female WILSON'S PHALAROPE remains for a fourth day at Seaforth NR (Merseyside), visible occasionally through the metal fence bordering Crosby Marine Park, whilst the two adult summer-plumaged WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERNS continue to commute for a third day between Lagoon III and the new Lagoon IV at Rutland Water Egleton NR (Leics). Meanwhile, the exceptionally confiding SQUACCO HERON that had spent three days at Snowland Fishery at Par (Cornwall) was not seen today.

On the Ythan Estuary (Aberdeenshire), both the BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER and PECTORAL SANDPIPER remain (viewable from the Waulkmill Hide), and the drake KING EIDER further towards the river mouth with up to 600 Common Eider opposite Inches Road.

In Derbyshire, the county's first-ever GREAT REED WARBLER continues to perform in the small section of Phragmites at the western corner of the first pit north of the railway at Straw's Bridge NR, Ilkeston, situated north of the A609, whilst an exceptional find was of a female BLUETHROAT on the small reserve at Leasowe Lighthouse (Wirral), showing well every now and again in ditches near the wooden footbridge by the duck pond.

A first-summer male COMMON ROSEFINCH was trapped and ringed at Landguard Bird Observatory (Suffolk) early this morning, with an ICTERINE WARBLER the same at Spurn Warren (East Yorks), whilst passage GOLDEN ORIOLES today included at least 3 on Scilly. A further young male COMMON ROSEFINCH was singing on Ramsey Island (Pembs) whilst a EUROPEAN SERIN was reported from trees along Evington Lane at the entrance of the Leicester Golf Club, Evington (Leics). A male RED-BACKED SHRIKE was discovered in coastal scrub north of the Blackhall Rocks car park (County Durham)

In addition to the breeding pair in East Kent, PURPLE HERONS are also being seen at Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry Reserves (Kent) and at Minsmere RSPB (Suffolk) whilst the first putative Marsh Warbler of the spring was singing from dense vegetation at Thorpeness disused carvan site (Suffolk).

On the Outer Hebrides, an adult BLACK STORK bearing a white plastic ring was seen again this morning, this time soaring in the Lochboisdale area at the south end of South Uist, whilst Paul Higson discovered a RED-RUMPED SWALLOW late afternoon flying around the Doctor's Surgery at St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay (Orkney).

The recent easterly winds saw a remarkable South Coast passage of Red Kites, involving up to 25 birds in Cornwall, and migrating with them were several BLACK KITES, including one well-photographed in West Cornwall and seen again today in the St Just/Carn Brea area and another today circling Sarisbury Green (Hants) for a while before drifting off north, presumably relocated in West Sussex as it drifted over Birdham towards Chichester. A RED-FOOTED FALCON was present briefly in Winterton North Dunes (Norfolk) before flying off NE early morning.

With the wind veering back Northwesterly, skua passage has resumed in the Outer Hebrides, with small numbers of Long-tailed and Pomarine passing, whilst WOOD SANDPIPER passage remains in full swing. TEMMINCK'S STINTS are plentiful, with 3 on the small pool between the Long Nanny and Bednell Bays (Northumberland), 3-4 on Pat's Pool, Cley NWT (North Norfolk), 2 on the pool north of the B9113 at Balgavies Loch SWT (Angus/Dundee), 2 at Port Clarence (Cleveland), 2 at Fiskerton Fen (Lincs) and further singles at Caerlaverock WWT Folly Pond (Dumfries & Galloway), Astley Lake, Swillington Ings YWT (West Yorks), Willen Lake North Basin (North Bucks) and at Diddington Pit, Paxton Pits NR (Cambs).

A female LONG-TAILED DUCK is summering at Pennington Marshes (Hampshire), roosting largely on the islands of the Fishtail Lagoon, whilst at the extreme NW end of Britain, Loch Braigh on Lewis (just NE of Stornoway) plays host to at least 122 summering individuals.

All 3 singing male IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFFS are still present, with those at Walderslade (North Kent) and Wentwood Forest (Gwent) and that at the end of a 3-mile hike at Potteric Carr YWT (South Yorks).

Thursday 20 May 2010

Total climbs to 346 species

The total number of species recorded on the combined Britain and Ireland list in 2010 has now climbed to 346, with the addition of the following six species ;-

1) European Storm Petrel (several in the West Country);

2) BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (one at Rutland Water this week was the first for Leicestershire);

3) BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR (a female on Great Saltee Island, County Wexford);

4) MELODIOUS WARBLER (one briefly in North Wales)

5) ICTERINE WARBLER (one at Gibraltar Point, Lincs)

6) Common Rosefinch (the first of the year was a singing male at Gibraltar Point)

ASIATIC BROWN SHRIKE in West Cornwall this evening

A female ASIATIC BROWN SHRIKE was discovered by Mark Warren in West Cornwall this afternoon, skulking in bushes and scrub distantly west from the cycle track between the west end of Maria's Lane and Mayon Cliff at Sennen Cove (at cSW 350 259). The bird was present until dusk but remained elusive and very distant and follows hard on the heels of a probable last autumn on The Lizard in late autumn.

Also discovered this afternoon (by Brian Buffery) was a very confiding TAWNY PIPIT, frequenting the dunes and Marram Grass in the vicinity of the sluice gates at Kessingland Beach (Suffolk). Suffolk also has three EURASIAN SPOONBILLS this evening, with 2 at Minsmere RSPB scrape and another at Boyton Marshes RSPB, whilst a TEMMINCK'S STINT is at Mickle Mere, Ixworth.

Wednesday 19 May 2010


See photograph on

A SLATE-COLOURED JUNCO was in a private garden in Folkestone (Kent) between the 15th and 17th May but has not been seen since. News of its presence was not released widely. This is the second record of this Nearctic passerine in Britain this year, following another garden visitor in Gloucestershire (that individual was present from January to early April)

Relaunch of Information Service - feel free to join

Visit the address above and register your membership

Due to major problems with foreign spammers, the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert email group (this is the one that contains all of the daily bird news and not this, the general UK400 Club group site) has had to be relaunched and can now be accessed at the address above.

Can all previous members kindly re-register with the new site/group. This new site will be moderated by me in terms of member access and please instruct me of your correct name when joining as those without recognisable identities will not be admitted (Lee G R Evans)

Local volunteers required for round-the-clock watch on nesting PEREGRINES

PC Charlie Everitt of the National Wildlife Crime Unit is appealing for assistance in keeping watch over a pair of Peregrines nesting on the outskirts of Edinburgh. This nest site has been robbed at the chick stage several times in recent years, and it is hoped the presence of volunteers may prevent or detect this if it happens this year. The site is thought to be particularly vulnerable in the evenings and/or early morning. If you think you can spare even a couple of hours over the next fortnight or so, please get in touch with Charlie at

Help most appreciated!

Thanks, Ian

Ian Thomson,
Investigations Officer
RSPB Scotland

Tuesday 18 May 2010

PURPLE HERONS breeding in Kent

The RSPB has launched a 24-hour vigil on a nesting pair of PURPLE HERONS at one of their reserves in East Kent. After three adults appeared several weeks back, two of them eventually settled down and quickly constructed a nest (the two birds depicted in Adrian Kettle's superb images above). If the attempt proves successful and the young fledge, this will represent the first nesting of this species in this country.

At present, the birds show very infrequently, but it is hoped that once the young fledge, the RSPB can establish an observation platform from where this unique event can be enjoyed (Lee G R Evans)

Thursday 13 May 2010

Total surges forward for mid May

The total number of species now recorded in Britain and Ireland has climbed to a very impressive 340 species, with the addition of a further 18 species since my last update in early May. The new additions are thus -:

1) ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE (a very showy individual at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire)

2) PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER (adult summer briefly in Surrey/London)

3) Temminck's Stint (small passage, perhaps involving 25 birds thus far)

4) BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (migrating bird with Dunlin, firstly in County Wexford and then on Skye)

5) LESSER YELLOWLEGS (singles in Lincolnshire and in West Cornwall)

6) RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (very early female on Sheppey, North Kent)

7) Long-tailed Skua (a few early flocks passing NW coasts and an early migrant in the Solent)

8) European Nightjar (arrival from late April)

9) GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK (confiding bird in County Cork followed by more in the west including migrants on Scilly)

10) TAWNY PIPIT (two early migrants)

11) GREAT REED WARBLER (a singing male in Derbyshire)

12) EASTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER (male briefly on The Lizard in West Cornwall)

13) Spotted Flycatcher (large arrival in May)

14) Red-backed Shrike (a very early male in Gloucestershire)

15) HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL (an elusive individual and rare spring migrant on Dursey Island)

16) WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (a major arrival of ship-assisted birds including one in a garden in North Cornwall)

17) SLATE-COLOURED JUNCO (belated news of a garden wintering bird in Gloucestershire)

18) ORTOLAN BUNTING (two early migrants including a confiding bird at Portland Bill)

Tuesday 11 May 2010

ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE lingers as temperatures plummet even further

Roy Harvey captured these eloquent images of Frampton Marsh's ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE, the bird present for its third day in the NE corner of the reserve within 120 yards of the East Hide.

And now finally - an AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER this year

Steve Duffield photographed this adult AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER surprisingly well advanced towards full breeding plumage this morning on The Range at West Gerinish on South Uist (Outer Hebrides). Bill proportion and visible tibia length is what I would expect on this individual and the rear-end appearance fits neatly with dominica. The amount of variegated gold, grey and black 'peppering' in the upperparts is also typical of this species, with no particular saturation of either feather (Lee G R Evans)

HOUSE FINCH still considered more likely of captive origin by BBA

I have been frantically soliciting further responses and information from my UK400 Club Advisory Panel on the evaluation process of this particular controversial potential vagrant in Cornwall and the overwhelming view still bears down that the bird is an escape rather than a ship-assisted vagrant. I am going that extra mile in decision-making as the bird is still present this morning and there is still an opportunity for those that haven't yet, could still travel down and see it.

In recent days, we have all learnt a remarkable amount of information on this fairly drab seed-eater and several factors are pertinent in the decision-making. One major factor is that House Finch has not yet been recorded on the Azores in autumn, where many potential vagrants to the Western Palearctic make frequent landfall, whilst the amount of orange-yellow feathering in the plumage instantly suggests a bird of captive origin. The feathers are essentially dead when they are fully grown so any emergence of yellow pigmentation would have had to be grown at the time of the natural moult, which should have been in October or November of last year if it was a vagrant. The Cornish bird is incredibly fresh, indicating a moult deformity, again indicating a captive origin, where many House Finches are bred with this in mind out of natural synch.

On top of this, Julian Hough and others have commented on the actual scarcity of diet deficient individuals on the Eastern Seaboard, and that the main propensity of distribution is in the SW states such as Arizona and California.

So, just to reiterate, the current stance taken by the UK400 Club has not changed in the light of more valuable information arriving, and the Cornish bird is still considered to be MORE likely an escaped cagebird than either a natural ship-assisted vagrant from the East Coast of North America or an orange-yellow ship-assisted variant from the largely sedentary West Coast population. In which case, the final decision is likely to be that the bird is placed on Category E, alongside the two previous British records of this species.

And more on moult strategies of HOUSE FINCHES - Alex Lees

from BNA:

Prebasic I Molt. House Finches undergo one moult annually from July to October (Michener and Michener 1940, Stangel 1985). Prebasic moult complete except in Prebasic I moult, when a variable number of juvenile primaries and secondaries retained. In California, a few birds moult all primaries and secondaries and most moult at least some primaries (Michener and Michener 1940); in Massachusetts, no juveniles moult all flight feathers and 80% fail to moult any primaries (Stangel 1985). Duration of moult related to number of primaries replaced, so average moult duration for juveniles shorter in Massachusetts than California (Stangel 1985). Massachusetts House Finches begin Prebasic I moult with primaries 4, 5, 6, or 7 (Stangel 1985); California finches with primaries 3 or 4. Degree to which difference in Prebasic I moult between eastern and western populations reflects genetic differentiation or environmental influences warrants further study.extract from Hill (1993).

If we assume the Cornish male was unlikely to have 'vagrated' out to sea and onto a ship until October then there is a rather small time window available to complete the moult in the absence of dietary carotenoids. Moreover, it is unlikely to move during a moult sequence. More likely it was yellow before it (hypothetically) left the US (Alex Lees)

HOUSE FINCH systematics

Everything you ever needed to know about House Finches, but were afraid to ask....Alex Lees


Geographic Variation

Substantial variation in body size, bill size and shape, wing and tail length, tarsus length, and plumage coloration among subspecies and populations in different regions (Moore 1939, Aldrich and Weske 1978, Power 1979, 1980, Hill in press a; Appendix). Birds from Guadalupe Is. are much larger than those from other populations (Power 1979, 1980). Aldrich (1982) reported that introduced eastern birds had larger bills and smaller tarsi than birds from parent population in California, but Hill (in press a) found no size differences among these populations (Appendix). Variation in male plumage coloration among populations is so striking it prompted Grinnell (1912) to give House Finches introduced to Hawaii species status (C. mutans) because of yellow and orange coloration of males. Feeding experiments with captive males, however, show dietary access to carotenoid pigments during molt determines male coloration and is responsible for inter- and intra-population variation in male coloration (Brush and Power 1976, Hill 1992, in press a; see Appearance). In contrast, captive feeding experiments indicate that variation among populations in the extent of ventral carotenoid pigmentation and discreteness of color patches on the head and breast (Moore 1939, Hill in press a) reflects genetic differentiation among these populations (Hill in press a). A single hybrid male from a C. m. griscomi x C. m. frontalis cross expressed a patch size intermediate to the two parental types (Hill in press a). See Hill (1992, in press a) for detailed discussion of determinants of inter- and intrapopulation variation in coloration and color pattern.

Subspecies; Related Species Moore (1939) divided House Finches into 4 species with a total of 18 subspecies. Subsequent treatments of the U.S. and Baja California populations (American Ornithologists’ Union 1957, 1983; Grinnell and Miller 1944) largely followed Moore’s taxonomy except that (1) the Hawaiian population is ascribed to the subspecies of the California population (C. m. frontalis) from which it was derived, (2) the 2 island species recognized by Moore (C. amplus and C. mcgregori) are considered subspecies of C. mexicanus (C. m. amplus and C. m. mcgregori), and (3) 4 western U.S. populations (C. m. frontalis, C. m. grinnelli, C. m. smithi, C. m. solitudinis) recognized as distinct by Moore are subsumed under C. m. frontalis . Many of the populations in Mexico and among the islands of the Pacific coast are geographically isolated and morphologically distinct (Moore 1939, Power 1979, 1980, Hill in press a), but a thorough study of the systematics of the group is needed.

Proximate Control Of Coloration

Yellow/orange/red color of feathers results from deposition of 3 carotenoid pigments: ß-carotene, which produces yellow to orange color in feathers; isocryptoxanthin, which produces orange color in feathers; and echinenone, which produces red color in feathers (Brush and Power 1976). Controlled feeding experiments with captive House Finches indicate that all individuals in all populations have same potential to be brightly or drably plumaged; variation in color of feathers reflects differential access to carotenoid pigments at the time of molt (Brush and Power 1976, Hill 1992, in press a, b). Males from 4 different C. m. frontalis populations (brightly plumaged Michigan, California; drably plumaged California, Hawaii) responded to standardized diets in a similar manner. When they were fed a plain seed diet, which was fully nutritious but provides few carotenoid pigments, all males grew feathers with similar pale yellow coloration (Brush and Power 1976, Hill 1992, in press a). On a seed diet with ß-carotene added, all males grew pale orange feathers. And, on a seed diet with the red carotenoid canthaxanthin added, all males grew bright red feathers. Moreover, the variance in plumage coloration among males after treatment on a standardized diet was significantly lower than the variance in appearance among males from wild populations (Hill 1992). Female House Finches also converged on a similar plumage when their access to carotenoid pigments was standardized during molt (Hill in press b). Although relatively few wild females show detectable carotenoid pigmentation (see Distinguishing Characteristics), when canthaxanthin was added to their diets all females showed maximum female expression of carotenoids with a red wash on the rump, crown, and underside (Hill in press b).Unlike plumage coloration, the pattern of coloration is not dependent on diet. In controlled feeding experiments, C. m. griscomi males retained their small patches and C. m. frontalis males retained their medium patches regardless of their access to carotenoid pigments during molt, and a single hybrid male from a griscomi x frontalis cross displayed a patch size that was intermediate to the two parental types (Hill in press a).Hill, Geoffrey E. 1993. House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Additional HOUSE FINCH record

In addition to the Fair Isle record of 27-30 April 1966 that I previously listed, there has been an earlier record on the island of a yellow variant trapped on 25 May 1962 (Mike Pennington et al, The Birds of Shetland, page 533)
Adrian Webb very kindly provided this excellent selection of images of the current Land's End male.

Sunday 9 May 2010

PRATINCOLE time all over again

The gorgeous singing male WHITE-SPOTTED BLUETHROAT at Welney WWT (Gary Thoburn)

The confiding EURASIAN HOOPOE at Clayhanger Marsh (West Midlands), fabulously captured on film as it probed for food (Dave Hutton)

This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Sunday 9 May, issued at 2200 hours, and published in close association with Rare Bird Alert Pagers whilst urilising additional information gleaned from Regional Birdlines, BirdGuides and individual websites and email groups.

The undoubted find of the day was that of yet another (or the same) ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE in Britain, repeating last year's performance in West Sussex and East Kent. The bird was discovered on the North Scrape of Frampton Marsh RSPB mid-afternoon (Lincs) and remained until dusk, affording excellent views from the reserve's East Hide.

In West Cornwall, an American HOUSE FINCH of unknown origin continues to sing in Swingates garden on the Land's End peninsula. It is of the orange-yellow variant, suggesting perhaps a first-summer and suggesting either an escapee or an individual which has acquired new feathers on this side of the Atlantic. The species is abundant in captivity in Britain and Europe and offered for sale for as little as £20 per pair, with a bird in this plumage most likely of captive origin. It commutes between the Land's End complex car park, the property on the north side of the road and the bird feeders in Swingates garden, and represents the second record for Britain following a female-type on Fair Isle from 27-30 April 1966. Please park in the complex car park (£4.00 per car) and walk back to view. There is absolutely no access to the garden unless specifically invited.

In the same vicinity, a PURPLE HERON was present briefly on Brew Pool, Sennen, before flying off SE, whilst the eighth local WOODCHAT SHRIKE of the spring involved a bird east of Skewjack Farm north of the B 3315 and a EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE discovered Swingates garden to its liking. A further WOODCHAT SHRIKE was on Scilly, near Pelistry Farm, St Mary's.

In the aftermath of the RED-RUMPED SWALLOW influx of last weekend, the long-staying bird is still at Meadowgate Lake, Rother Valley Country Park (South Yorks) whilst two very confiding birds remain for a second day by the dam at Arlington Reservoir (East Sussex).

An ORTOLAN BUNTING showed briefly this morning at Walney Island Bird Observatory Garden (Cumbria), following hard on the heels of the year's first at Portland Bill (Dorset) in recent days, whilst in South Wales, an adult ROSE-COLOURED STARLING lingered for at least its third day by the playing field at Flynnon-Wen at St David's (Pembrokeshire). A reeling male SAVI'S WARBLER near Leighton Moss RSPB (Lancs) is only the fourth of this species to be recorded this spring.

At Welney Refuge (Norfolk), the wide-ranging GREAT WHITE EGRET was present this morning whilst the long-staying male WHITE-SPOTTED BLUETHROAT remains on territory in the vicinity of the Lyle Hide, 450 yards north of the main information centre. Meanwhile, in North Norfolk, a COMMON CRANE has been present for the past week on Holkham Freshmarsh. The female MONTAGU'S HARRIER bearing the French wing-tags continues to cause havoc on the scrape at Minsmere RSPB (Suffolk), taking concerning numbers of wader chicks on its frequent visits.

With the wind remaining in the Northeast, the first-summer male WOODCHAT SHRIKE extends its residency in Winterton South Dunes (Norfolk), showing extremely well on the isolated Birches and gorse scrub 350 yards south of the beach car park, whilst in the Midlands, a very confiding EURASIAN HOOPOE continues to delight a constant stream of admirers at Clayhanger Marsh (West Midlands) (see photographs above).

In the north of Scotland on the Shetland Islands, 3 DOTTEREL are at Mid Field on Ronas Hill, with a Garganey and Ruff on the Loch of Hillwell and two COMMON CRANES in the Baltasound area of Unst at Belmont, whilst further south, a BLACK STORK drifted across the Farr junction in the Findhorn Valley (Speyside) yesterday afternoon.

It has been a surprisingly slow start for the annual TEMMINCK'S STINT passage with just three birds on offer today - all together on the North Scrape on Cley Marshes NWT (North Norfolk). However, WOOD SANDPIPERS have been in reasonable supply, with 4 on the flooded paddocks at Cross Ness (London), 3 at Pulfin and High Eske NR near Beverley (East Yorks), 2 on the Spoonbill Flash at Fairburn Ings (West Yorks), 2 at Summer Leys NR (Northants) and others at Bothal Pond (Northumberland), North Cave Wetlands (East Yorks), Standlake Common NR (Oxon) and Wanslip Meadows (Leics). DOTTEREL today included four in a ploughed field near the Loch of Tankerness (Orkney Mainland) near Mill Sand (at HY 513 084), two on Pendle Hill (Lancs), three still on the SW slope of Brown Wardle Hill, Wintergrove Reservoir (Greater Manchester), four still showing well in the pea field at North Cotes (North Lincs) (at TA 363 014), two briefly on the limestone pavement at the Great Orme (Conwy) and a female on Blackcraig Hill (Ayrshire) and another five that flew west over Frampton Marsh (Lincs) early morning. The PECTORAL SANDPIPER was again at Top Tank on Saltholme Pools RSPB (Cleveland) this morning.

A summer-plumaged WHISKERED TERN visited Dungeness RSPB Reserve (Kent) yesterday whilst at the opposite end of the country, the very bright male IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF continues to hold territory at Walderslade Woods, 250 yards in from Chestnut Avenue. In what has actually been an excellent spring for this Mediterranean species, another singing male was present in Norfolk Breckland for several days recently.

An apparent pair of NORTH AMERICAN GREEN-WINGED TEALS arrived at Dynevor Pools (at SN 608 222) in Llandeilo (Carmarthenshire) today, with the pair of COMMON CRANES still dancing on the Pevensey Levels viewed from Herstmonceux Churchyard (East Sussex).

The first wave of EUROPEAN NIGHTJARS are now returning to Britain to breed, with a bird performing this evening in Regent's Park (Central London), but GOLDEN ORIOLES and EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARDS still remain very much in the minority. A pair of nesting PURPLE HERONS could represent one of the few breeding attempts if successful.

In IRELAND, the regular returning adult FORSTER'S TERN reappeared at the east end of Tacumshin Pools (County Wexford), with the PACIFIC DIVER again off the Martello tower at Finavarra Point (County Clare). Meanwhile, a drake Ring-necked Duck remains at Inch Island Lake (County Donegal), the long-staying GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK is still on Ballycotton Beach (County Cork), whilst a EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE made landfall on Cape Clear Island (Co. Cork).

HOUSE FINCHES in captivity in Europe

Richard Bonser kindly emailed me the following email he received from Morten relating to House Finches in captivity in Continental Europe..........

My brother Jacob and I have been in the "cage bird business" for more than 20 years and have a reasonable knowledge about bird occurences in European bird shows. The American or Mexican House Finch is very common at the moment with probably thousands of bird in captivity in Europe. We both recently visited the colossal cagebird marked in Zwolle (The Netherlands) and House Finch was pretty commonly offered for sale or advertised there.

House Finch has, like the other carpodacus species, difficulties with keeping the red colour in captivity and therefore at least 90% are actually yellow variants. Jacob and I have both kept Pallas's Rosefinch, Common Rosefinch and 'Mexican' House Finch and if you don't feed them on a certain diet, they will lose the red colour and turn yellow or orange-yellow (Morten)

American HOUSE FINCH present for a sixth day

This orange-yellow variant HOUSE FINCH, superbly photographed by Steve Rogers, remains present today, still frequenting the Land#s End car park and Swingates area.
There are two theories on how House Finches get this particular plumage, one suggesting that in the West Coast of America, it is a colour morph. It seems far more plausible however that it is diet-related, as has been frequently proven by finch breeders in the UK. If House Finches do not get the correct nutrients in their diet at the critical time of moult, the replaced feathers newly acquired are yellow or orange-yellow rather than purple-based.
After much consultation, both with UK advisors and of those commentators in North America, the current feeling of the UK400 Club/BBA is that this Cornish male is more likely to be an escape than a natural or ship-assisted vagrant. Investigations are still ongoing of course and a further announcement will be made when a thorough review is made of all of the factors influencing this sighting.
Alex Lees has very kindly provided a wealth of additional information on House Finches and has pointed out that there are actually three records in The Netherlands rather than one as I stated previously.

Saturday 8 May 2010

HOUSE FINCH of unknown origin in West Cornwall

A singing male HOUSE FINCH (Carpodacus mexicanus) of the orange morph (frontalis) has been present on the Land's End peninsula (West Cornwall) since at least Tuesday 4 May. It is largely frequenting the private 'Swingates' garden just before the main Land's End complex and is generally very elusive and showing only from inside the grounds of the garden. It is good feather condition but is of unknown origin and provenance.

It represents only the second record of this North American passerine in Britain, following a female on Fair Isle (Shetland) from 27-30 April 1966 (Dymond 1991, The Birds of Fair Isle).

The UK400 Club accepted the Fair Isle occurrence on to Category E, believing it to be more likely of captive origin rather than a genuine vagrant. Although importation of birds from Mexico and elsewhere was rife in the 1960's, even now House Finches are commonly advertised for sale and kept fairly abundantly in captivity.

House Finches are predominantly sedentary but breed from Texas, through the western states, to British Columbia. In 1940, the species was introduced to New York from California (Aldrich & Weske 1978,
Origin and evolution of the eastern House Finch population. The Auk 95: 528-536) from where the species spread to many eastern areas from Arkansas to the Great Lakes. They winter within the breeding range as well as south to Mississippi and Alabama (Veit & Petersen 1993, Birds of Massachusetts) with ringing records in Massachusetts yielding movements to Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. A further ringing programme in South Carolina saw movements to or from the more northerly regions, the maximum of which being 816 kilometres.

Aldrich & Weske noted that only 4% of their ringed birds moved as much as 200 kms but a much more recent study (that by Belthoff & Gauthreaux) found that female House Finches tended to migrate further than males (Proctor & Fisher 1999, Identification of House and Purple Finch and their separation from Common Rosefinch (Birding Scotland 2: 52-60).

There is also an additional House Finch record from The Netherlands - at Ijmuiden in January-February 1979 (Osieck in Birding World 1: 76-78)

CORNWALL is having an excellent spring

See Steve Roger's excellent Cornish blog here

He has detailed just two of the recent ornithological events to be staged in Cornwall, that of the first WHITE-THROATED SPARROW for the county and that of a vagrant sub-adult GOLDEN EAGLE on The Lizard

Tuesday 4 May 2010

EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE numbers holding up in the Home Counties despite the continued carnage in Malta - just when is this country going to be outlawed

It is very heartening to see these very same EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVES return to their breeding grounds year after year, even if the total population in the county numbers just above 10 pairs. They have been at this very low ebb now for at least ten years but are still remaining stable with little or no drop-off (bar the Totternhoe pair that have now gone). The same has gone for our tenuous population in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and it gives me some encouragement that we could reverse the fortunes of this beautiful bird if we could stop the continual carnage of this species in Malta, Kuwait and parts of southern Spain and France. I am appalled that even in 2010, up to 2,500 Maltese hunters are still targeting this species and going all out to shoot every one that accidentally strays into their sights - why does the EU not just kick them out for blatantly flouting laws regarding the International protection of birds.

On a recent tour of southern Morocco, I made it clear to local residents how lucky and important it was that one particular area was attractive to large numbers of this summer migrant and was very pleased that the ecologists and conservationists there realised their plight. This one particular area is winter home to at least 400 Turtle Doves and they thrive on the uncultivated farmland there. I pray that it continues to do so, as the Turtle Dove is undoubtedly one of the most bird species to be cherished and needs all of the help it can get.

.......and makes landfall in The Netherlands only hours later

This summer-plumaged PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER made landfall on the Lauwersmeer on 2 May, the same day that one had pitched down briefly at two sites in London. It certainly seems to be the same bird, making a remarkable coincidence of events......

Dutch Birding confirmed that their bird on timings alone could NOT be the London bird, being discovered just 56 minutes after the Barnes bird had flown west at 1037; furthermore, there does seem to be distinct differences in plumage. A remarkable coincidence of events, proving just how one can never be sure of anything with vagrancy

Apparent PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER pitches down briefly in London

This apparent PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER in full breeding plumage flew over Beddington Sewage Farm (Surrey) at 0830 hours (Johnny Allan, Peter Alfrey, et al) on Sunday morning and was then relocated by Wendy at Barnes WWT Wetland Centre less than an hour later, where it resided on a shingle island for just over an hour before being flushed by territorial Lapwings at 1037 and flew high west. As you can see from Andrew Moon's images above, an interesting individual with unusually excessive black on the lower underparts and flanks, but its long tibia, toe extension beyond the tail and relatively short primary extension beyond the exposed tertials, certainly implicate fulva, and most convincingly the fact that it is in such spanking and advanced breeding plumage (dominica AGP develops such summer attire several weeks later than its close counterpart, generally acquiring such feathering in the last week of May) (Lee G R Evans)

Monday 3 May 2010

British Petroleum pledges 16 million dollars towards unprecedented oil spill clean up

BP has today pledged 16 billion dollars in an attempt to clean up what will inevitably turn out to be the worst oil spill and ecological disaster ever known. An Oil slick 160 miles long is now covering a massive part of the Gulf of Mexico and is threatening the lives of over 8 million nesting seabirds and shorebirds, as well as endangered alligators, dolphins and large turtles. With the oil now washing ashore in Louisiana, 14 turtles have already been picked up either dead or starving and President Obama has warned the American public that this is likely to be the worst environmental disaster in the region and of unprecedented proportions.

BP say it could take up to 90 days to build another well to take off the pressure on the leaking valve, caused after an explosion sank the working well just over a week ago. Oil will continue to seep into the ocean until the three massive holes are repaired.

Sunday 2 May 2010


This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Sunday 2 May 2010, issued at 2100 hours and published in association with RARE BIRD ALERT PAGERS whilst utilising additional information yielded from the Regional Birdlines, Birdguides and an array of websites and blogsites.

A charming singing male WHITE-THROATED SPARROW was located in a birder's garden at Boscastle (Cornwall) yesterday morning and remained present all day today, delighting over 100 observers sighting their first ever in the county. The bird is frequenting the grounds of Welltown Manor, where the owner has very kindly agreed to allow access, provided a donation is made to the Cornwall Bird & Preservation Society. A field has been made available just off of the B 3263 at SX 093 905 and from here walk along the road to the public footpath on the right, with the sparrow in the garden on the left. Please ensure to respect the privacy of residents and do not obstruct any access or footpaths.

Apart from the Nearctic sparrow above, it has been RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS that have made all of the headlines today with an incredible 8 birds located amongst the many hundreds of thousands of hirundines grounded by today's Arctic winds and torrential rain. Suffolk attracted four birds at just one site - the Loompit Lake at Levington Marina - whilst further singles were discovered at Wilstone Reservoir, Tring (Herts) (present from just 0600-0900 hours only), a bird for its second day at Gunwade Lake, Ferry Meadows Country Park (Cambs), one briefly over the Aveley Lagoons at Rainham Marshes RSPB (Essex) mid-afternoon and another at Brading Marshes RSPB (Isle of Wight).

In Kent, the very bright singing male IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF remains in Walderslade Woods (North Kent), showing very well as it displays in its small territory of wood between tow male colybitta Common Chiffchaffs. Half way along Chestnut Avenue in Walderslade, just north of the M2, park by the entrance to the woodlands and as you appear from the opposite side of the small plantation after 200 yards, the bird is moving between the edge of the wood and some smaller trees adjacent.

EURASIAN HOOPOES are also in vogue with one showing well yesterday in Kent just north of the M20 at Lenham Heath sheep fields and one still today in the West Midlands at Clayhanger Marsh in the field opposite the sewage works just west of Ford Brook. One still remains well to the north on Fair Isle as well. The long-staying male (WHITE-SPOTTED) BLUETHROAT was still singing by the Lyle Hide at Welney WWT (Norfolk) this morning (access £6.80 to non-members) whilst the first-summer male WOODCHAT SHRIKE continues for a fourth day at Winterton South Dunes (Norfolk), favouring the gorse bushes in the central valley 650 yards south of the car park, and the female is still at Bass Point (Cornwall). There was no news today on the first-summer male BLACK-HEADED WAGTAIL present for several days on the Trinity Pool at Sennen (West Cornwall).

In London, a breeding-plumaged Pluvialis plover, either PACIFIC or AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER, staged at Beddington Sewage Farm until 0830 and then at Barnes Wetlands WWT from 0900, before being flushed off by territorial Lapwings at 1037. It had been showing well on the long shingle island visible from the Peter Scott hide.

An elusive BLACK STORK, present in the West Country for over a week, was seen again this morning, NE of Shaugh Priory by the Cadover Bridge at SX 555 646 (South Devon).

Two PECTORAL SANDPIPERS remained for a second day at North Cave Wetlands (East Yorks), favouring the SE corner of the island as viewed from the reserve's Turret Hide, whilst DOTTERELS today as we approach the peak of their spring migration through Britain included a pair on the Long Mynd (Salop) by the entrance gate to the Midland Gliding Club, a trip of 8 over Annesley Pit Top (Notts), two on the Cefn Cadlan, Llwyn-on Reservoir (Glamorgan) and two at Abbeystead (Lancs). A migrant STONE CURLEW visited Holy Island (Northumberland) today (in the cereal field at Chare Ends), whilst WOOD SANDPIPER numbers have slackened off with the change to NE winds although singles were noted at Lamesley Water Meadows (Co. Durham), Marshside RSPB (Lancs), Manby Flashes (Lincs), Nosterfield Pits (North Yorks), Old Moor RSPB (South Yorks) and Walmsley Sanctuary (Cornwall) today and a flock of 6 on Rush Hills Scrape at Hickling Broad (Norfolk) and party of 4 at Tealham Moor (Somerset). The first few TEMMINCK'S STINTS of May are arriving, with 3 together at Swaffham Prior Fen (Cambs) and further singles at Cley NWT (Norfolk) (on 1st) and Minsmere RSPB (Suffolk).

Two COMMON CRANES arrived at Otmoor RSPB (Oxfordshire) this morning and showed well throughout much of the day whilst the two beautiful adult summer PURPLE HERONS continue to display and gather nest material on the Denge Marsh at Dungeness RSPB (Kent), with another adult nearby at New Downs Scrape, Sandwich Bay. A GREAT WHITE EGRET was present at Berry Fen (Cambs) today, along with the long-stayer at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB (Aberdeenshire), with another COMMON CRANE in fields east of Lady Anne's Drive, Holkham (Norfolk)

An adult drake BLUE-WINGED TEAL, perhaps the Cleveland bird, was discovered at Pepper Arden Bottoms (North Yorks) this morning.

In Northern Scotland, 1-2 adult WHITE-BILLED DIVERS remain off Burghead Maltings (Moray) and the usual adult off Kirkabister in South Nesting Bay (Shetland), with a lingering adult SNOW GOOSE with Pink-footed Geese at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB (Aberdeenshire) and a SNOWY OWL on Unst (Shetland) at Baltasound. A drake BLUE-WINGED TEAL was a nice find on Mull (Argyll) (at Loch na Keal) whilst the drake KING EIDER was seen again on the Aberdeenshire coast, again at Old Slains.

The two early ROSEATE TERNS at Dawlish Warren (South Devon) were still present today, with a pale morph ARCTIC SKUA briefly inland at King George V Reservoir (London) late morning.

The Home Counties have had a good day passage-wise with huge numbers of ARCTIC TERNS displaced, several BLACK TERNS, a few LITTLE TERNS and the odd SANDWICH TERN, along with OSPREYS and MARSH HARRIERS

The bad weather conditions displaced many northbound-migrating waders inland, particularly Whimbrels, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Red Knot and Dunlin, along with a few Pied Avocets (two at Audenshaw Reservoirs, Greater Manchester)

Large numbers of WHINCHATS are now passing through, along with the main push of GREENLAND WHEATEARS, whilst several late RING OUZELS are still to be found. The first SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS are now arriving

In IRELAND, a GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK remains present on the beach in front of the car park at Ballynamona (Co. Cork) whilst a HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL appeared again very briefly close to the pier on Dursey Island (Co. Cork). An elusive male presumed WESTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER was present at Knockadoon Head (Co. Cork) and a WOODCHAT SHRIKE on Dursey Island.

A PACIIFIC DIVER was offshore at Finvarra Point (Co. Clare) this afternoon

The male DOTTEREL remains on the summit of the Djouce Mountain (Co. Wicklow), whilst two EURASIAN SPOONBILLS were roosting on the saltmarsh at Timoleague (Co. Cork) this afternoon.